Evolution of the Nile deep-sea turbidite system during the Late Quaternary: influence of climate change on fan sedimentation



This paper presents an overview of the evolution of the Nile deep-sea turbidite system during the last 200 kyr, over a series of glacial to interglacial cycles. Six individual deep-sea fans were identified from an extensive field data set. Each fan comprises a canyon, channel system and terminal lobes. Two of these fan systems were possibly active at the same time, at least during some periods. Large-scale slope failures destroyed channel segments and caused the formation of new submarine fan systems. These slope failures thus played an important role in the overall evolution of the turbidite system. During the last glacial maximum (ca 25 to 14·8 ka) the central and eastern parts of the Nile deep-sea turbidite system were relatively inactive. This inactivity corresponds to a lowstand in sea-level, and a period of arid climate and relatively low sediment discharge from the Nile fluvial system. Rapid accumulation of fluvial flood-derived deposits occurred across the shallower part of the submarine delta during sea-level rise between ca 14·8 and 5 ka. The most recent deep-sea channel–lobe system was very active during this period of rising sea-level, which is also associated with a wetter continental climate and increased sediment and water discharge from the Nile. Increased sediment deposition in shallower water areas led to occasional large-scale slope failure. The Nile deep-sea turbidite system was largely inactive after ca 5 ka. This widespread inactivity is due to retreat of the coastline away from the continental shelf break, and to a more arid continental climate and reduced discharge of sediment from the Nile. The Nile deep-sea turbidite system may be more active during periods of rising and high sea-level associated with wetter climates, than during lowstands, and may rapidly become largely inactive during highstands in sea-level coupled with arid periods. These acute responses to climate change have produced sedimentary/stratigraphic features that diverge from traditional sequence models in their nature and timing. This large-scale sedimentary system responded to monsoon-driven climate change and sea-level change in a system-wide and contemporaneous manner.